Iron & Silk | Chicago Reader

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Set in a city 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, this is the autobiographical story of an American kung-fu expert (cowriter and star Mark Salzman) who comes to mainland China in 1982 to teach English. He falls for a young doctor (Vivian Wu), is tutored in Chinese customs and t'ai chi by a widow (Jeanette Lin Tsui), and eventually gets to study wushu (a form of martial arts) with a master (Pan Qingfu playing himself); he also encounters various difficulties as a foreigner coping with an alien society. Based on Salzman's book of the same title, produced and directed by Shirley Sun (who collaborated with Salzman on the script), and filmed on location in China, this is in part an embarrassing vanity production—at least in appearance—in which Salzman, a somewhat awkward actor, gets to show off his wushu, his cello playing, and diverse other skills and charms at length. However, the account of his difficulties adjusting to Chinese life is fascinating for what it reveals about contemporary China (1990).

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